Meatballs in Tomato Sauce

This recipe for meatballs in tomato sauce is easy to make and a great dinner to have on standby for busy evenings.

A plate of meatballs in tomato sauce, served with fusilli pasta and topped with grated parmesan

When my sons were growing up, the evenings were always hectic in our house. There’d always be someone coming home late from school, work or sports training or rushing out for an evening activity. So doubling up on recipes and freezing portions for later was a vital time saver for me.

Now that they’ve all grown up, I’m usually only cooking for two but I still find freeze-ahead dinners a life saver on those days when the time runs away from me.

My meatballs with tomato sauce are an old faithful recipe that I’ve relied on more times than I can count. They are loosely based on a recipe in Nigella Lawson’s ‘Feast‘, but I’ve been cooking them for so long now that the recipe has changed a lot over the years. 

Overhead view of a bowl of meatballs in tomato sauce served with fusilli pasta spirals

This is a great meal to prepare ahead, as you can make the sauce and meatballs earlier in the day and then just cook the meatballs in the sauce while you’re cooking the pasta.

But it’s also a great freezer favourite because you can easily freeze the meatballs in the sauce for another day. Remember to make sure that the meatballs are completely immersed in the sauce to prevent freezer burn, and defrost thoroughly in the fridge before you reheat them. 

I usually serve these little meatballs with fusilli because that’s what we’ve always eaten it with, but they also go well with spaghetti, linguine, or even couscous or rice. You could even serve them without accompaniment as part of a tapas style dinner.

But whatever I serve them with, I love to shower my plate with plenty of parmesan before I tuck in!

Meatballs with Tomato Sauce and Pasta
Prep Time
10 mins
Cook Time
20 mins
Total Time
30 mins

Meatballs served with a simple tomato sauce makes an easy prepare-ahead dinner

Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Italian
Servings: 4
Author: Sally Akins
  • 1 medium onion
  • 1 medium carrot
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • Salt
  • 1 tbsp oil sunflower, rapeseed or light olive
  • 450 g lean beef mince
  • 25 g porridge oats
  • 25 g parmesan cheese finely grated
  • 1 large egg
  • 450 g chopped tomatoes
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • Cooked rice, pasta or couscous plus extra parmesan to serve
  1. Peel and roughly chop the onion and carrot, peel the cloves of garlic and put all of them into a food processor. Pulse until everything is finely chopped together.

  2. Put the oil in a large saucepan over a low heat, and add three-quarters of the vegetable mix together with a good pinch of salt. Put a lid on the saucepan and let the vegetables gently soften, stirring occasionally to make sure nothing is browning. This will take around 10 minutes.

  3. While the vegetables are cooking, add the mince to the food processor along with the remaining vegetable mix, the porridge oats, parmesan and egg. Pulse until everything is well mixed together and then turn out into a bowl.

  4. Pinch off small amounts of the meatball mix and roll into balls about 2.5cm across. I never have a problem with the mix sticking to my hands but if you do, keeping your hand damp with water can help. Put the meatballs onto a plate as you make them, when they are all done you can cover with clingfilm and pop them in the fridge to firm up until you need them.

  5. When the vegetables have softened, add the can of tomatoes and then a can full of water to the pan. Add the sugar, then bring to the boil and simmer for 10 minutes until it is slightly reduced and thickened.

  6. Remove from the heat and use a stick blender to blend to a smooth sauce. If you don't have a stick blender, you could use a food processor or liquidiser but be very careful blending hot liquids. Let the sauce cool down a little before you transfer it to the blender, and cover the top of the liquidiser with a teatowel to avoid scalding yourself.

  7. When you have a smooth sauce, bring it back to a gentle simmer then gently drop in the meatballs. You may find that some of the meatballs aren't completely covered, but you can just flip them over into the sauce a little later on. They will take around 15 minutes to cook, avoid stirring the pan for at least the first 5 minutes as it may break up the meatballs.

  8. When the meatballs are cooked through, serve with pasta, rice, couscous or whatever else you prefer.

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